Sewing panels into a favorite old shirt, and the virtues of keeping your "skinny clothes"

Not until I became obsessed with sewing back in August did I realize how much clothes mean to me. How a single piece can be full of meaning and memory, how just seeing something in my dresser can make me smile or feel more secure in the world. I knew I felt this way about bags and backpacks, but that’s another post entirely. But clothes? How did I not see this before? Instead, for years I’ve told myself to just get over it and let things go when they didn’t fit or when they got stained up. I’d do almost anything to go back in time and collect up a big basket of all those clothes I let go of, and bring them back to my present-day sewing workshop, and modify the heck out of them.

Here we have what I call, “One of my favorite Betsy shirts.”


For the life of me I cannot figure out how it shows up GREY in the photo, when it’s actually a lovely dark navy blue. Oh well! Anyway, waaaaay back in, what, the early 2000’s or so, I fell in deep be-smitten love with these hemp clothes I found at a festival here in Seattle. They were utterly fantastic, made from renewable resources (back then hemp was a big deal, people constantly joked, “Can you smoke your clothes?” [rolls eyes]), and the look was linen-like (I love linen more than anything) but it was a little thicker and very durable. It was the just the loveliest fabric.

So of course, being me, I walk right up to the woman running the booth, called Intertwined Designs, and begin telling her how much I loved her clothes. That woman was Betsy! This little booth was her operation, and she sewed all the clothes herself. We talked forever, and I was so happy to find clothes that fit me that I bought 4 or 5 things. At the time I was about a size 18, which was just outside of everyone’s range (unless you went to the MALL, ugh, barf, roll on the floor twisting in agony), but Betsy had a ton of stuff that fit me, and all of it was artsy and colorful and fit like loose linen. I was in heaven.

Over the next few years I would show up at her booth with a few hundred bucks, buy a bunch of stuff, have a nice chat, and go home very happy! Somtimes I made a big pre-order and would pick it up from her. Once, she sent me a special present for being her best customer that year. I beamed with joy.

These clothes represented so much to me, they were a scrapbook. They represented adventure and going to these festivals I loved. They reminded me of meeting and connecting with a great human. Betsy and I aren’t close friends or anything, but we had a great rapport and I loved checking in with her about her life and how she was doing. Our birthdays are one day apart! Last summer, at the Oregon Country Fair, I ran into her again. We hadn’t seen each other in over five years, but she knew me, and it was so fun to reconnect. These clothes also represent my values, being able to wear something sourced sustainably, and made by hand without exploitation from someone I respected. And on top of all that, they FIT, and they were SO CUTE. It was the style I wished I could have, but could never find in my size. Betsy, a person I’d met and connceted with, made me things that I wore every day that made me feel great about myself and my body. I feel the same way about Cada!

Yeah, all that from some t-shirts and pants and a few pullovers and dresses. I know, right? But there it is. Clothes really mean a lot to me. Which is why, when I got bigger (I’m now about a 22 or 24, depending on the brand), I kept nearly everything she’d made. Of course I did. It wasn’t about making myself feel bad for having grown in size. I repeatedly read books and articles about fat acceptance, and over and over they encourage you to get rid of you “skinny clothes”, the clothes that are too small that are just taking up space, because apparently having these around are bad for your psyche.

Well, I got rid of bags and bags, all in the name of being “healthy”, and all I wish now is that I’d held on to them. I could cry for all those great memories I gave up. They never made me feel bad about myself. They just took up space. Big deal, lots of things we love take up space. Photos take up space, and all we do is pick them up, look at them, and feel good. These clothes were that, to me. I should have listened to myself more, but that’s been hard for me for a long time. I have a great therapist who I started seeing to help with my anxiety disorder. He planted a seed, “It’s okay to trust yourself,” and that has become a tree that I lean against on a regular basis.

I won’t give up clothes I love again. Because if I love them, then that’s all I need to know. AND, because I can modify many of them, now!


First I dug into my giant tub-o-knit-scraps (I have another full tub of woven scraps) and I dug out two beautiful strips of paisley that I bought from Wonderground. Wonderground Fabrics is a great online retailer, I love their stuff, and Gabbi, who runs that store, is friendly, funny, and just gives the best customer service. Join the Facebook group and get in on the pre-orders! Score.

Then I took the navy shirt, and used fabric scissors to cut off the seam on both sides, from the bottom all the way through to the underside of the sleeve. I eyeballed how long the strips ought to be to fit into the shirt as panels. I left about an inch on both ends to fold under and coverstitch, at the end. And then I just serged them in. Voila!


It isn’t perfect, but it looks and fits great, and I love it! I haven’t worn this shirt in years! It’s like bringing an old friend back. When I was done, I did something I’ve never done before. I took it downstairs, and while watching a show, I sat there and used a needle and lovingly threaded and wove back in all the end threads from the serging. Then I dabbed them all with no-fray liquid. This shirt is practically a pet.

And now everything else I loved about this shirt is combined with: I recycled it. I didn’t throw it out, or give it up. I made it mine again. I might even love it more than I did before.


  1. Elaine Bradtke says:

    Oh dear, I’d nearly convinced myself to get rid of all the clothes that don’t fit til I read this. 😉

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